Catherine Lacey '03: The Practice and Art of Writing

Catherine Lacey ’03 (who went by Lacey Booth while at Baylor) published her fourth book and third novel, Pew, in July of this year. Yet when she first arrived on Baylor’s campus as a new boarder in 1999, she did not envision writing as her career. “I enjoyed writing,” Lacey explained. “I even started a creative writing club at Baylor with (English instructor) Chris Watkins as our sponsor, but I really didn’t have the confidence to have much ambition until much later.”

After graduating from her Creative Nonfiction MFA program at Columbia University in 2010, Lacey pursued fiction writing. “This one piece of fiction kept growing, and that ended up being my first novel, though at the time of writing, I still thought it was an escape.”

For Lacey, a key challenge in honing her writing skills required an acceptance of loss. “When you write, there’s so much you have to throw away. If you play a sport, you can practice and practice and practice, and you can see yourself getting better with certain actions. With writing, you have to find a way to treat your work like practice. That’s a hard leap to make because every story feels like it matters, and you’re writing it because you deeply care about it.”

Anyone who is fed and safe and happy right now, you just have to feel lucky about that.

In her practice and art of writing, Lacey found that the schedules she was prone to follow as a boarder at Baylor continued to assist her over the years. “I follow a pretty rigid writing schedule, and I have for the last 20 years. If you follow a schedule in your writing, I believe you will become a better writer and a better reader.” Though her writing followed a fixed schedule, the release of her new novel did not. Due to the pandemic, Pew’s final July publication date fell two months later than her publisher originally planned. She began writing Pew in 2015, yet the content feels especially timely for its 2020 entrance into the public realm. Her book centers around a question for which Lacey herself still has yet to find an answer: “What if you weren’t able to determine someone’s history? And how would you treat someone if they didn’t know their history?” As the world grapples with a pandemic and how our actions affect both friends and strangers, Pew provides a useful lens to consider how we choose to interact with those whose histories we do not know or understand.

Despite the undeniable challenges of the past year, Lacey’s immense gratitude is evident: “Anyone who is fed and safe and happy right now, you just have to feel lucky about that. And I’ve realized the enormous luck I’ve had this year in finding the right publishing company, the right editors, the right agent. Each one of those is hard to come by.”